Review- Revolutionary Friends

Castrovilla, Selene, and Drazen Kozjan. Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis De Lafayette. Honesdale, Pa: Calkins Creek, 2013. Print.

Non-fiction written for an elementary audience is now more popular than ever thanks to the Common Core. Good non-fiction is hard to find, and excellent works are scarce. This one teeters on the edge between the two.

Wonderfully illustrated, this highlights the grandeur and experience of Washington versus the youth and inexperience of the Marquis De Lafayette. The use of muted colors serves the battle scenes well and generally supports and adds to the textual emphasis.

The use of primary source material is also included in a parchment looking caption area on many pages. The idea works well and helps to challenge readers at the same time to tackle this more difficult offering in a more digestible bite.

One of the difficulties inherent in a small amount of space is the development of, and eventual resolution of the narrative. This decision making process becomes even more complicated when working with historical figures that are not yet known to their audience. The initial pictures painted with text and brush can have a tremendous influence on future encounters. It is for that reason that I have struggled with the portrayal of the Marquis De Lafayette, and even France. In the effort to portray his youth, inexperience, and devotion to the cause of liberty, the creators have chosen their path. It is neither right or wrong, it is merely their choice. You will have to decide for yourself, but think about it.

Another choice made by the creative team is the acknowledgment that the story continued beyond that of the illustrative content. They chose to provide a continuation of the text in what functions as both afterword and addendum. The inclusion of this matter makes a point that we should remember and bring to our young readers: just because a book has a lot of pictures does not make it inappropriate for older readers. The book has the shape and feel of a classic picture book, but the text is not what one might expect. It is plentiful on the page and the careful introduction of French words and phrases makes it sing. The ending section extends both the historical and textual complexity of the work with those word-filled pages. Opportunities for differentiation exist because of these additions and teachers will want to make this book available in their classrooms. School and public libraries will want to acquire it for the same reason, but realize that this book may not sell itself; it deserves a talk of the most animated variety. In short, I liked it.

Dogggone Feet!

Helakoski, Leslie. Doggone Feet!Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2013. Print.

Doggone it, this book is a fresh look at feet. Yeah, I know, feet are not my cup of tea either, but imagine a dog whose world-view is defined by feet. Combine that imagery with colorful illustrations, some playful rhyming language in narrative form and you have a potentially great book that presents families from an interesting perspective.

The book will find a comfortable home in the hands of early readers and classrooms, but it might also become a favorite for read-aloud sessions that kick off larger units of study. There are limitless classroom investigative applications for the down-low viewpoint introduced by Helakoski. Older students could make their own collection of pictures around the school or home and re-tell the story or adapt it to a certain series of events like a day at school.


Books that spark creativity in children and adults are special because they tend to move us beyond the pages and bend some of those pre-conceived notions we have of our world. They implore us to think creatively for solutions to problems and enlarge our field of view. But they do it in a sneaky way. It is up to the parent and teacher to seize these teachable moments and make them visible for those who might not recognize them at first glance. That is called teaching them how to think.


Add this to the bottom shelf of your collection, or the top, but add it with confidence.

Working with Struggling Readers

I just finished a most interesting read in the April issue of  The Reading Teacher. The article, What Really Matters When Working With Struggling Readers, offers some strong recommendations. The author, Richard L. Allington suggests that it is not a lack of money that keeps us from teaching all our children to read. And that’s a good thing. But, if we could save resources and improve our instruction? Now, he’s talking my language, I’m a conjunction guy.

Here is his list of four options that we can eliminate  from our instructional practice:

Eliminate Workbooks

Eliminate Test Prep

Eliminate Paraprofessionals from Instructional Roles

Eliminate Expenditures for Computer Based Reading Programs

I am impressed, but I fear for his safety. These are bold recommendations that boldly go where few have gone before. In one fell swoop he has alienated an industry and a lot of well intended educators. Good for him. We need the reminder he provides that “struggling readers exist largely because of us.” Do we dare implement  a program that implements research-based interventions instead of continuing to push the easy button with our struggling readers?

Pick one, pick two, or pick them all, just do the right thing.

Ten Minute Tools

I often see a lot of web-based tools for use in the classroom- some brand new and some just new to me. As I wade through the different tools I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time that could be spent on any different number of things. Classroom teachers and librarians also have little time to spend with their daily demands. I’ve come up with a strategy borrowed from Richard Byrne’s Best of the Web presentation that he shared during a NCTIES presentation. He spends eight minutes; I’m not that good. 

Give yourself ten minutes (use a timer) to keep yourself honest) to look at a web site or app and see if you can figure out the basics of use within that period of time. My challenge is this: Can I figure out how to use it well enough in that period of time to implement with my classroom?  If I can make something happen, chances are that students can, too. This routine of technical triage can yield some great finds while maximizing and focusing our time as teachers and librarians. We need not be expert users of every application we encounter, but we do need to measure it against our pedagogical expertise and seek the situations where it will enhance student learning. Now, go fill your toolbox with some Ten Minute Tools!


Two Months

It’s been nearly two months (probably more) since my last entry of any consequence and my head hangs in shame. I made a secretive agreement with myself to post twice weekly beginning at the first of the year and resolved to follow the plan, but something (can’t remember what) got in the way.
I wanted to share some of the cool web-based tools I’ve been using and some quick reviews of books I found interesting as well as gems I discovered at the thrifts, but I’ve spent more time reading and listening than normal (and that’s not a bad thing, I hope). As a matter of fact, I’ve read some new Ron Rash, older Harry Caudill and listened to more jazz than I had ever hoped. Throw in some Lee Smith, Sharyn McCrumb, Adriana Trigiani, three or four tomes on the history of broadcasting and a pile of Bob Newhart and Smothers Brothers discs and there you have it: a couple of glorious months spent feeding that insatiable thirst for things that make me smile and remember.
I’m not sure exactly why my fascination with bygone days has to do with the present, but I rather suspect it provides balance to the world of eBooks, iPads, HTML5, and the other gadgetry that consumes most of my professional life. I like to think that the old has been made new again; informed by the gigabytes of data available to me (and you too) that make sense of the things I always wanted to know and be.
Suffice it to say that I have a thirst for life and learning that cannot be quenched. It all started with books and radio (the written and spoken word) and it still continues. I believe that most kids (myself included) need places like libraries and book stores filled with people who share that malady and want to create a space to make it happen. That said, let’s make it happen.

A Review of Barbara Newman’s Glamorous Glasses-

Newman, Barbara J. Glamorous Glasses. Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2012. Print.


When I think of eyeglasses I think of glamorous people: Elton John, Elvis, Jackie O., and a few others that rocked some odd looking specks. But I also recall those glasses known as Clark Kent’s that were issued to military inductees. I never wanted those (and didn’t need glasses at that point), but some people even make those look glamorous. It is the search for that perfect pair of glasses or other fashion accessory that makes life quite exciting at times for some folks. I’m just satisfied to know where my glasses are located without having to resort to one of those ropes that tethers them around my neck. Maybe I’m trying not to look like a librarian?Never mind my lack of fashion, but I just read a book that reminded me that kids can even look cool in glasses as long as they are not the ones who have to wear them.

Glamorous Glasses is an all-too-cute story that should resonate with girls and their moms. Imagine what can happen when you wear a pair of prescription glasses that are not yours, and the person that should be wearing them doesn’t wear any. The story gets better when a shopping trip to the city is the background for the fun that ensues. Yes, the story is both fun and funny; it can be enjoyed at any pace by almost anyone- including boys.

School librarians will want to be sure to pick up this title for a variety of reasons. Yes, chief among those is a reminder that it can be quite cool to wear glasses. Secondly, this title is ripe for reading aloud by a bespeckled teacher or librarian. The vivid colors reinforce the sense of fashion that can be found in everyday items and how we can achieve that elusive glamorous effect. Well, everybody except me.

The Doctor is In- Here Comes Dr. Hippo

London, Jonathan, and Gilles Eduar. Here Comes Doctor Hippo. Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2012. Print.


I’m always amazed at animals that expertly mimic human behavior, and Dr. Hippo sure reminds me of countless boys and girls that have taken heartbeats, checked tonsils and conducted minor surgery all in the name of make-believe fun.


This fun–filled adventure is just the thing for parents to share with their emerging readers. Not only is the book predictable, but also it encourages vocalization and bonding.  This is sure to be a bedtime favorite for many sessions even if it inspires much play beforehand. The story is solid in all the ways that children’s books should be and Eduar’s art is the perfect match for this tale providing its own predictability and easily understood interpretations.


Parents and libraries collecting early childhood literature can feel confident adding this to their collection knowing that it will become a favorite of kids and adults reading together and building relationships.